Tuesday, December 23, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS - A Shepherd's View 2014!!!

The plane arrived ahead of schedule. In that sometimes quirky system in the Arab world, delightful really, but unusual, the Kuwait Airways jet left half an hour earlier than the scheduled departure time because the passengers were all there,  the plane was loaded so we left. Pretty logical I thought.

The taxi ride from the airport into the city of Amman, Jordan was uneventful. Wait, it WAS “eventful”!! As we drove the relatively short distance into town I saw the most delightful site. Along the road, up on the hillside, I saw a shepherd with a flock of sheep. Such a peaceful scene, it seemed so natural and so right somehow, even though I guess I had never actually seen a shepherd and a flock of sheep.  I’ve seen plenty of sheep in my time but never a scene like this where the shepherd was guiding and protecting them.

Living in the Middle East and traveling frequently among the Arabian Gulf states, one observes many sights which are perhaps new and unusual for them.  In particular, the camels roaming freely among the sand dunes on the drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai,  a scene straight out of the Arabian nights. Those wide stretches of sand with the undulating dunes always made me feel so at peace. None of the hustle bustle of city life but just seemingly endless expanses of shimmering sand and sun, a gentle breeze, a calming sense of peace.

But on this day near Amman, the city named Philadelphia in Roman times and described in the Bible as the City of Brotherly Love, the shepherd with the sheep struck a chord.  It brought thoughts of shepherds abiding in the field watching their flocks by night as described in the story of the birth of Jesus.  In this peaceful setting even though it was close to the city, that Bible scene became very real to me. How wonderful that the birth of the Herald of God’s love, Christ Jesus as he would become known, appeared first to simple shepherds.   

While a few “Wise Men” had indeed received the angel message that there was to be a significant event, this first close-up glimpse of the divine idea, heralded by Angel Voices came not to astronomers, not to priests or other religious leaders, not to King Herod or the secular higher-ups but to simple shepherds, those whose minds were perhaps childlike and trusting, as shepherds must always trust, in a power greater than themselves. Those stalwarts who face dangers every day with only a staff and sling shot to protect them and their charges.

At this Christmas time may your heart and mind be as humble, expectant, receptive to the Christ spirit and as full of peace and love as those early shepherds watching hopefully on the hillside.  And, may your flock, large or small, rest comfortably and abide with you, or in your thoughts, during this holiday.

Merry Christmas ... and Love...  Pat Collins

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fitting In and the Chameleon

Fitting In and the Chameleon

As we sat in our lawn chairs in the backyard enjoying the late afternoon sun, I was startled by the sound of splashing water. I quickly turned to see what was making that noise since our little Pekin ducks, which had been playing in the wading pool, were now out and walking around the back of the lot.

The source of the noise was quickly seen to be our dog Lucy, jumping around and splashing noisily in the pool like she was a duck.

Lucy was our loved Corgi that had come upon the scene  a
few years earlier, first appearing as a small head with big ears, dark eyes barely peering out from the woods. She obviously had no home and was living off the land as best a small dog can do. She soon became our dog and seemed happy enough to have a regular meal schedule and a warm bed.

Lucy quickly appointed herself mother and protector of our ducks and she was always with them, guarding them from the occasional coyote and from the hawks which flew overhead peering down at a possible duck dinner!  Lucy  seemed to love mothering and watching over the little quackers and the praise we gave her for being such a good guardian.  

On this day, she had been watching the ducks as they did their joyous “duck things”, frolicking and diving underwater, then surfacing and shaking, flapping their stubby wings, swimming, diving back down underwater, and repeating the process.  As the ducks finally got out of the pond and wandered away, apparently little tinges of jealousy started pulling at Lucy.   When we looked back at the pond, there she was  in the pool, ducking under the water, getting up shaking, diving again into the water mimicking everything that the ducks had done except her quack quack sounded more like a bark, bark.

She was trying to “Fit In”.

She wanted to be accepted and loved  like the ducks were, I guess, even to the extent of changing her behavior and normal inclinations since she had never shown an affinity for water.  She must have thought those actions caused us to love those ducks and she wanted part of that love!.

In my own experience I have faced the temptation to ”Fit In”, to go outside of what I knew was right for me, to act contrary to what I believed in and what I stood for, and what I knew about myself. I wanted to  “Fit In”  and not stand out as different from the group as an “odd ball”, to not draw attention to myself, my ideas, my principles.   How much easier it seems to be “one of the gang” than to stand for something. It wasn’t very comfortable but it was EASY. Doing the wrong thing can be Easy but it isn’t very satisfying or comfortable.

 I remember a helpful slogan I heard years ago that said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”.

In recalling some of those moments from years past I was reminded of the story a friend, Howard, told me long ago.  He cautioned me about being a Chameleon and explained how Chameleons change their color to “Fit In” with their environment.  He made it pretty clear that I should avoid that temptation and stand up for what I believed in, that I should reflect on the outside the qualities that I cherished in my heart.   
 While appearing to be one thing while you are actually something else inside, just to “Fit In”,  is good for a lizard, but it is often a treacherous trap  for humans

In a world where the lure of drugs and alcohol, the temptation to shortcut, stretch the truth, discuss with heated temper politics and social issues, to gossip about and show no respect for others…  so many temptations, we sometimes edge more toward being the Chameleon, perhaps hiding our true nature and feelings rather than standing firm on principle.

The Bible contains many wonderful examples of Chameleon disguises versus standing firm with honesty and integrity, and also shows that things don’t change very much from century to century, as the same temptations we face were present in Jesus' time as well.

In the lifetime of Jesus many people undoubtedly discussed disease, blindness, physical disability, deafness, leprosy, immorality, and many other issues.   Jesus didn’t fall in with the group and talk about how terrible it was that these diseases were present, didn’t spend time criticizing the government nor gather with the group to pass judgment and cast stones at sinners. . He stood firm with his understanding that God, who he understood to be Divine Love, the Mind that created ALL, did not create evil, disease or death,  but Life Eternal. He didn’t worry about being “different” and healed and uplifted those in need in spite of those who resisted or ridiculed him. 

In contrast,  Judas, one of the 12 disciples, typified the Chameleon in the most hurtful way. While in his chameleon outfit he was outwardly loyal to Jesus, but he betrayed him to the soldiers, an attempt to Fit In with the authorities.  Matthew 26

And, even Peter,  a loyal disciple who loved and was loved by Jesus fell into the trap.   He wore  the chameleon outfit when Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest,  and tried to Fit In with those who claimed they did not know Jesus, and denied being a disciple.  He was later so ashamed of his actions but he did prove that even those with high ideals and standards can fall victim to the lizard influence!  Matthew 26  

So, whatever the motive, we can and must drop the "act".  Mary Baker Eddy in her Miscellaneous Writings sums up helpful guidance for the principled individual. Urging integrity and sincerity in each of our lives, she counsels:  "The upright man is guided by a fixed Principle, which destines him to do nothing but what is honorable, and to abhor whatever is base or unworthy; hence we find him ever the same,at all times the trusty friend, the affectionate relative, the conscientious man of business, the pious worker, the public-spirited citizen.

He assumes no borrowed appearance. He seeks no mask to cover him, for he acts no studied part; but he is indeed what he appears to be,full of truth, candor, and humanity. In all his pursuits, he knows no path but the fair, open, and direct one, and would much rather fail of success than attain it by reproachable means. He never shows us a smiling countenance while he meditates evil against us in his heart. We shall never find one part of his character at variance with another.  Miscellaneous Writings pp147

And so, Dear Lucy, your  efforts were all for naught. Even though your attempts to Fit In were innocent enough, you
didn’t need to be a duck with stubby wings, web feet or a cute quack, quack.   I loved you for who you were.  

Just so, our dear Father/Mother God, loves each of us as we truly are, no frills needed, no change of costume or color,  no false pretences about who we are. We can be ourselves, the spiritual self we were created to be… the individual reflection of Life, Truth and Love that are ours as God’s perfect image.  As Jesus counseled:  "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. " Matthew 5